Beyond the Beat: The Art of Music

Eddy Zhang, Commentary Editor

Nestled in the second floor of Alumni Hall is a medley of historic and contemporary works, musical instruments and a blend of student voices, all showcasing the significance of music across different cultures — symphonically coming together to form the “Beyond the Beat” exhibition. 

After a pause over the summer, ”Beyond The Beat” is back for the Fall semester. Starting Sept. 13, it will be open every Monday through Thursday — along with Sundays; the exhibition is free for all those who wish to submerge themselves in a musical cornucopia. 

Featuring pieces from the Longyear Museum of Anthropology, Picker Art Gallery and contributions from students, what makes the exhibit truly stand apart is not a singularity in focus, but the attention dedicated to disparate aspects of music. The display’s various sections represent different portraits of the various manners of music. Special recognition is paid towards pieces of music originating from the African continent, an area historically underrepresented in contemporary museums and curations.

Junior Ray Zhang, one of the student curators for the exhibit, explained how he was able to connect with a musical experience from his childhood through the project. One of the curated instruments in the museum, the Hulusi, is significant to him for personal reasons. 

“I started to play Hulusi when I was seven. Though I am not practicing it anymore, the instrument is the symbol of my early music experience in my childhood. This was a great moment of musical enlightenment for me, which made me appreciate the beauty of Chinese traditional music more,” Zhang said. 

By drawing on student perspectives like Zhang’s, the exhibit is able to highlight the heterogeneous nature of music. Built upon student research and effort in the fall of 2021, the curation was constituted by nine students in MUSE 300, an apex course in museum curation for those minoring in museum studies. These nine students drew upon their own experiences and curiosities to exemplify and celebrate the musical outgrowths of culture.

Another student curator, junior Gabi Amato, depicted the unique process students in the course underwent to build the exhibit. While explaining how Rebecca Mendelsohn, co-director of university museums and curator of the Longyear Museum of Anthropology; research affiliate and instructor in sociology and anthropology, taught the MUSE 300 course through leveraging student individuality and creativity, she noted the following: 

“Every Thursday in class we would have group brainstorming sessions where we could discuss different design elements and details about the layout and overall aesthetic of the exhibit. A lot of the artifacts themselves came to be in the exhibit based on independent personal research each student did. We each have a display case we curated, so in that case the creative process was entirely our own.”

The synthesis of music closely paralleling cultural currents offers the chance for students to introspectively and critically examine music in a way that goes beyond their own experience with it. For those passionate about music, or even those just interested in the enigmatic character of music, the “Beyond the Beat” exhibition is a gateway into exploring the eclectic ways in which music can be orchestrated.

Yang Yang, a returning Colgate graduate who works in the Office of Residential Life and Office of International students, reflected on her experience at the exhibit when it was live last year. 

“It was a great experience, and I learned a lot about the different cultural instruments and their unique significance to different communities. And I also loved how these were student perspectives being represented,” Yang said. “It’s something which I remember well, and I hope others take advantage of the experience too.”